Team of the Season 2020-2021

Believe it or not, another football season has ended. This one wasn’t as disrupted by the Corona pandemic as the last season was, but it would be a stretch to call it a regular season either. Last season ended only in August, which meant that there was hardly any summer break and lots of matches had to be squeezed into an ever tighter schedule. Not the easiest of times for top performances. Still, some players defied the odds and produced performances of the highest calibre. This blog post chronicles their exploits.

Manager: Thomas Tuchel

Bench: Courtois, Oblak, Navas; Guerreiro, Angelino, Robertson; Rüdiger, Kounde, Nacho, Azpilicueta, T. Silva, Savic; Hakimi, Wan-Bissaka, Walker; Rodri, Kimmich, Busquets; Kroos, Barella, F. de Jong; De Bruyne, M. Llorente, Müller; Neymar, Grealish, C. Ronaldo; Benzema, Haaland, Lukaku; Kane, Son, Foden

Best Player of the Season: Robert Lewandowski

Best Team of the Season: Manchester City

Best Match of the Season: FC Liverpool – Manchester City 1-4, 07.02.2021

The selection is, as always, based on the two criteria quantity of performance and quality of performance. Ideally, the players selected have performed really well and did so for the whole season or substantial parts of it. The 2020-2021 Season is defined as starting with the final whistle of the 2020 Champions League final and ending with the final whistle of the 2021 Champions League final.

I want to thank my four co-authors Tobias Günther, Michael, Justin Kraft and Rob Fielder. The portraits they’ve written are the highlights of this year’s Team of the Season. I am very grateful to have you on board! The player selection is still done by me, mind you, so if you have any righteous anger to vent, please direct it at me.

Manuel Neuer (by Tobias Günther)
If you play as a goalkeeper for one of Europe’s big club sides, opportunities to show your full abilities tend to arrive only rarely in any normal season. However, the 2020-2021 season was by no means a normal season. Yes, the COVID pandemic still loomed large and empty stadiums were the norm. But football-wise, too, the season was rather unusual. Many elite clubs struggled. Bayern München, Manuel Neuer’s club, was no exception.

True, Bayern were still able to push most opponents back into their own half for long stretches of time, but while doing so they conceded way more high quality chances than they used to do. Bayern’s very high defensive line plus their rather laid-back approach to gegenpressing meant a flurry of long balls behind Bayern’s defenders and subsequently many situations in which opposing attackers were free to run directly at Manuel Neuer. This phenomenon was evident way back at the start of the season when Bayern played Sevilla in the European Supercup and was never completely banished for the rest of the season. Even weak opponents were thus gifted a relatively easy means to get Bayern into trouble. Luckily for Bayern you could fill a whole YouTube compilation with the times Neuer drove opposing strikers into desperation because he time and time again got the upper hand in these 1-vs-1 situations. Even quality centre forwards like Haaland and Weghorst will do everything they can to forget these situations. When given the opportunity to shine, Manuel Neuer grabbed it with both hands.

It was especially in late autumn and in winter, the period when the strain inflicted by the lack of a meaningful summer break became especially evident and Bayern produced one lacklustre performance after another, when Neuer’s worth for the team became clear for all to see. It would not be over the top to say that in the months of November and December alone, the fact that Bayern had Manuel Neuer between the sticks instead of some other, quality goalkeeper won them some extra 10 points or so. In the matches against Bremen, Union Berlin, and Mainz, for example, Neuer spared supposedly mighty Bayern from going several goals down. The points won in these matches were crucial for Bayern going into the rest of the Bundesliga season as front-runners and for eventually winning the Meisterschale.

It is normally a significant psychological advantage if a team plays with a goalkeeper this dependable. However, in the case of 20-21 Bayern one cannot shake the impression that the team grew a bit too accustomed to depending on Neuer. At times the team simply seemed too carefree. Strikers who beat the high line weren’t pursued with the necessary resolve, passes that should never be misplaced were misplaced, and controlling the ball for some players seemed a tougher task than one should imagine it was. Manuel Neuer was one of the very few Bayern players who hardly ever looked shaky, who kept his concentration levels all the way up, who rarely made mistakes. As an FC Bayern supporter, I do not want to imagine what would have happened if Neuer hadn’t been as dependable and largely error-free as he was.

We all know that Manuel Neuer is a complete modern goalkeeper who is very adept with his feet and who stands at or near the top of the ranking of current “sweeper-keepers”. At times, he even seemed to be Bayern’s best passer on the field this season. Yet I want to highlight how convincing and how crucial his exploits in the more traditional parts of the goalkeeping profession were this season. His tendency to win an absurd percentage of 1-vs-1 duels was already mentioned. Add to that his ability to routinely produce great saves, to stop shots from close distance due to his quick reflexes, and his perhaps unmatched ability to appear bigger than he really is, to cover all angles with his extremities, and you have a strong contender for the best classic goalkeeper around irrespective of all the other things he does.

There is a case for Manuel Neuer being Bayern’s best player this season. This might sound strange given Lewandowski’s goal record and the fact that Bayern conceded more goals than anytime since 1995-96 when Otto Rehhagel was their coach (44 goals). But if you look at his performances, there is no denying Manuel Neuer had another excellent season.

Luke Shaw
It was the best of times (for centre forwards), it was the worst of times (for full-backs). Well, maybe not quite, but it is true that selections for this Team of the Season were difficult for different reasons. For some positions there was an excessive supply of world class performers while for others there were very few, if any, worthy players around. Both full-back positions fall into the latter category. Since matters were even worse at right back and Joao Cancelo, a worthy candidate, has played both positions, he features there. Which leaves us with the left back position to fill. I think generally speaking the best current left back is Liverpool’s Andrew Robertson. He had a better season than some of his Liverpool colleagues but I think the team’s sub-optimal season ultimately affected his performances enough to relegate him to the bench. Then there were a few players at a very similar level. The Bundesliga had two fine left wing-backs in Angelino and Guerreiro but both ended the season on a sour note. The Spaniard was thrown out of the squad for the German cup final while the Portuguese was, by some distance, Dortmund’s worst player that night. Sure, that was only one match, but if the decision is a close one, like it is here, one high-profile match can make a difference.

In the end my choice fell on Manchester United’s Luke Shaw. The man whose recent seasons were troubled by quite considerable spells of poor form has sprung back and produced his best year yet. A creative presence on the left wing, somebody who can contribute to his team’s possession game both by creating dangerous moments himself and by being a reliable part of the ball circulation. His defensive game was convincing as well. Still a physically robust player, he proved a match for most wingers in the Premier League. Did he produce a season for the ages? No. Would he have gotten a place on the bench instead of the first eleven for most of the last 20 seasons? Yes – and maybe sometimes he would have failed to make the squad altogether. But credit where credit’s due, he has established himself as part of the current elite.

One of the greatest compliments you can give to a player is to say that he has reached a level where you expect him to feature in Team of the Season selections like this one. In every era there are a couple of players who will at least make the bench for a couple of years running if they perform at their usual level. They may not be Player of the Season material at any point, but they stand emblematic for a certain level of consistent excellence. Jan Oblak and Joshua Kimmich are two current players who I see in this kind of way. Javier Zanetti used to be a prime example in the 90s and 00s. By now, Marquinhos has become a member of this elite circle as well. He is one of the few players who makes my selection for each of the last three seasons. He wins a place in the first eleven for the first time this year.

Marquinhos is the undisputed leader of PSG’s defense. In a team that sometimes looks less than mature, he very much seems to be the grown-up in the room. He is also an excellent defender. Mentored by Thiago Silva, it is not completely wrong to call him the latest in the line of great defenders that started with Franco Baresi. Marquinhos is a tough and precise marker, knows both how to intercept and how to win the tackle, and serves as his team’s playmaker in defense. The last part is particularly interesting because he not only passes the ball well but also frequently advances into midfield to open up new passing options and ask the opponent’s pressing scheme some unusual and uncomfortable questions. He is by no means a giant but has a great jump and will very rarely be pushed around. The only thing that made me hesitate to include him here were his injuries. He missed quite a few games, especially domestic ones, through various small injuries. Ultimately the competition for a spot in central defense wasn’t tough enough this year to make the player with arguably the best quality of performance in central defense miss out.

Ruben Dias
To be honest with you, I don’t quite believe the hype, and did not believe it even before the Champions League final. Ruben Dias is the first defender to win FWA Footballer of the Year since Steve Nicol in 1988-1989. Given the rarity of a defender winning any individual award, this suggests that he has played a season at least on par with some of the best exploits by Virgil van Dijk, John Terry, Nemanja Vidic or Rio Ferdinand. This, in my opinion, is not the case. Yes, the addition of Dias has improved City’s defense considerably and this is the reason why he features here, but I cannot help but think that the person primarily responsible for City’s strong defensive record is Pep Guardiola and his most recent effort to blend high pressing with solidity against counter attacks. So no, I don’t think Dias is a second van Dijk. He played a very good season, but there were several other players who are basically on his level, chief among them Antonio Rüdiger whose development I can hardly believe. Thiago Silva minus the injuries would have been another player with a very strong claim for a place in central defense. Simply put, I think Ruben Dias is too error prone to rank among the very best centre-backs of recent years (see, for example, my Match of the Season).

Still, none of these clarifications should obscure the fact that he did play a very good season. Guardiola may have been the architect of City’s defense, but Dias certainly was its leader, its beating heart on the pitch. A comparison to Barcelona’s Carles Puyol is not totally off. The most important player within what was the best defensive line for the longest part of the season naturally has a very good shout for making this team. On a good day Dias is the kind of defender for whom defending looks easy. Of course he wins the header, the direct duel, the race to the ball, and of course does he pick the right pass. When you stop worrying about a defender and just start to assume that he will succeed even if tested time and time again, that is usually an excellent sign. Dias had spells during this season where this was my reaction (which explains my surprise when the mistakes started creeping in). Ruben Dias has announced himself as a world class centre-back this season. I am honestly excited to see whether his next twelve months will be more like the first three quarters of the season or more like his last few weeks. Given his age it is entirely possible that he will become more solid still and conclusively establish himself as one of the great central defenders of his generation. Let’s wait and see.

João Cancelo (by Michael)
I think it’s fair to say that it’s been a somewhat easy decision at the right-back spot this season. João Cancelo performed at an extremly high level at Manchester City, having had a huge impact in their new system after a couple of tactical tweaks were made.

Like full-backs under Guardiola at Bayern did previously, he often tucked into defensive midfield making their build-up cleaner and more effective. Cancelo was allowed a rare free-role and even popped up in zone 14 frequently, which is the central area in front of the 18-yard box. This led to him being a highly important ball carrier and distributor for City in all areas of the field.

While he was such a force going forward, the Portuguese international also won defensive duels reliably. Worth mentioning at this point that he featured almost as many times on the left side of defence and usually matched his impressive form. Special shoutout to his beautiful in-swinging crosses from the left. I believe, that he would have a case for the left-back spot, too. However, while we deservedly sing his praises, we probably shouldn’t ignore the small dip in form for about four to five games from March to mid April.

It’s incredibly fun watching players like Cancelo, because like Marcelo or Raphaël Guerreiro, it feels like a flamboyant midfielder got lost and somehow ended up playing full-back.

Ilkay Gündogan (by Rob Fielder)
In past campaigns nobody has quite summed up Pep Guardiola’s propensity to overthink the biggest games of the season like Ilkay Gundogan. If anything, the decision to include the German in some of the most significant encounters the club had ever played speaks to his quality as a player, trusted by his manager in the important moments. And yet, in some way at least, Gundogan’s presence has symbolised a nervousness about Guardiola, that when it really matters his way of playing has too much vulnerability.

This season (at least until the Champions League final) has come in stark relief. With eight games of the season gone Manchester City were 13th in the league, having lost two and drawn three of their opening fixtures. At that point they trailed Southampton, Crystal Palace and Wolves, hardly imaginable when looking at the closing table of the Premier League. It’s not hard to see where all that was turned around.

From 19 December until 7 March, City reeled off 15 league wins in a row. Gundogan scored 8 times in that spell, including braces against putative title challengers Liverpool and Spurs, as the Sky Blues left their rivals trailing in their wake. From being a peripheral figure, Gundogan was suddenly the focal point of the side.

Gundogan’s surge to prominence underlines the difficulty of determining exactly how Manchester City line up. According to WhoScored every Premier League appearance he has made this season has been as a central or defensive midfielder. The goals he has scored though have predominantly been those of a centre-forward. While a few, strikes against Chelsea and Crystal Palace, have been special moments from the edge of the area, the majority have been from inside the box with many the type associated with a true poacher like Sergio Aguero.

Indeed the absence through long-term injury of the Argentine marksman have led this City to arguably become the purest representation of the Guardiola philosophy. With Aguero absent and Gabriel Jesus never fully trusted, City have frequently lined up in a truly striker-less system. Even Raheem Sterling, the closest thing the club have to an auxiliary attacker, has fallen out of favour and that has only increased the fluidity of City’s approach.

For a long time Gundogan was the chief beneficiary of the tactical changes. Previously used as a relatively conservative player, providing greater control to the side, his ability to get forward into attacking positions has been a revelation. With the likes of De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva often used as a false-nine, the players around them have been able to drift into the space that they vacate and nobody has done that better than Gundogan. His ability to time his runs, to find unoccupied pockets, had been accompanied with a ruthlessness in front of goal that has settled the biggest of games.

Then came the most important match in club football. Perhaps it was the recent defeats to Chelsea in the league and FA Cup that caused Guardiola to try something different, perhaps a desire to surprise the opposition. Regardless, the decision to play Gundogan as a holding midfielder and omit both Fernandinho and Rodri can be seen as the key decision that cost City their shot at glory. The absence of Gundogan in a more advanced role and his comparative lack of steel defensively allowed Chelsea to get the upper hand. While that was corrected in the second half, the pattern of the match had already been set by that point.

Although that decision seemed a turning point in settling the outcome of the game, nobody could accuse Gundogan of playing particularly badly. It was rather that City as a whole as a whole struggled to find a way to break down Chelsea’s back five, particularly with N’Golo Kante and Jorginho shielding them effectively in midfield.

Given City’s unfulfilled thirst for the Champions League and the way their domestic campaign turned into a procession, there will be those who see 2020-21 as a disappointment. Yet a more rational assessment will see it as a genuine step forward at a time when many of their international rivals are going backwards. Gundogan has stepped out of the shadows into a pivotal role and continues to have the confidence of the game’s most influential manager. He can certainly consider himself to now truly belong among the elite.

N’Golo Kante
A few years back it seemed like Kante would be an automatic starter in these teams for years to come. It didn’t quite turn out like that. His career at Chelsea so far has contained both highs and lows. At first it seemed like this season would see a continuation of this state of affairs. It’s not like he never played well under Frank Lampard. There were games last autumn in which Kante already impressed me. But he didn’t look set for the first eleven of this selection.

Well, things have changed. Suffice it to say that Kante was the best player on the pitch, in my book at least, in both Champions League semi-finals and the final. Given the surpreme importance of these matches, this alone makes for a solid claim for inclusion in this team. But his claim does not rest on these few matches alone. For the last, say, four-and-a-half months Kante has played at a level I haven’t seen from him in years. He is back to his best.

…or even better than he used to be. He know plays as a No. 8, not anchoring the midfield by playing just in front of the defenders, but leading his team’s pressing efforts. For all his strengths as a defensive midfielder, I think his current position is even better suited to maximize his strengths. Put simply, I think N’Golo Kante is the best pressing player in world football. I also tend to say that he is the best player in world football when his team doesn’t have the ball. Thomas Müller might be the only player who can rival him for the even bigger title of ‘best player without the ball’. Kante is a genius when it comes to denying opponents time and space. Whenever you think he will catch up to you, he’ll be there slightly sooner than you expect. Whenever you think you shield the ball well enough from him, he will find a way to at least get a bit closer to it than he has any reason to be. He is without a doubt one of the great Zweikämpfer in midfield football has seen.

But don’t get me wrong, he is great with the ball as well! Not nearly as great as he is without the ball but this is simply down to how staggeringly good he is in that regard. He’ll never be an archetypical playmaker, but his technique with the ball is good, his decisions are almost always spot-on, he’s agile and can go on surging runs. He’s simply an intelligent and gifted player when attacking. Not worse than good attacking players who haven’t got 10% of his ball winning skills.

For good examples of Kante’s excellence this season, the second leg semi-final against Madrid and the Champions League final itself are obvious choices.

Bruno Fernandes
Attacking midfielder was one of the difficult choices that were difficult in a nice way. Several players performed so well that I would be more than happy to find a place for them in the first eleven. But alas, given that I want to field a semi-realistic formation and given the fact that there is another automatic starter who plays pretty much like a No. 10 with Leo Messi, there can be only one. Given the lack of immortal Scotsmen, the choice was between Thomas Müller, Kevin De Bruyne and Bruno Fernandes.

As you will know by now, my choice ultimately fell on Bruno Fernandes. He was without a doubt the most important player in what is Manchester United’s best Premier League season since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club. Position-wise it would be a bit off to say that he is a classic No. 10 since he frequently plays as a False 9, but in regards to his overall playing style the classification is fitting. Fernandes is someone who constantly looks to offer decisive contributions. He is a master of the final pass and has racked up 17 assists in all competitions this season. This more than decent number is dwarfed, however, by his goals scored. 28 in all competitions really is a number worthy of a true 9, let alone a No. 10 dabbling as a false 9. Now, I should note that half his league goals came from the penalty spot. Penaltied need to be scored, too, though, and Fernandes is outstanding from the spot.

Next to Messi and, on a match-for-match basis, Neymar, I see Bruno Fernandes as the most creative player in world football this season. An inventive, technically superb playmaker. By the time of the Europa League final he seemed burned-out but his great form this season continued well into spring as will be evident to anyone re-watching the semi-final first leg against Roma. Maybe the finest display of playmaking creativity I have seen from anyone this season. Kevin De Bruyne remains the foremost attacking midfielder of our time, but in a year in which he did not hit his personal performance maximum all that often, Bruno Fernandes wins the place.

Kylian Mbappé
Despite the emergence of Erling Haaland, Kylian Mbappe still looks set to be the best player in the world a few years down the road. If his body allows him to continue to blend pace and power in this ungodly kind of way, it is hard to imagine a future in which he isn’t one of the star performers. His skill-set is such that keeping him quiet for the full 90 minutes is close to an impossible task. He is not, not yet anyway, the kind of player that will dominate most matches from start to finish but he will always have his moment or two (or three or…).

What I take to be the finest performance of the season came from Mbappe. The first leg of the Champions League tie against Barcelona marks one of the high water marks of his career so far. On the wing or in midfield or in Barcelona’s own box, Mbappe was unstoppable as a dribbler that night. Furthermore, his three goals were testament to his finishing ability and nose for goal. He did not always play this well, or even close to it, this season. Had he done so, he would be Player of the Season. His domestic campaign was arguably more patchy than his run in the Champions League. For a player of such immense capabilities, he didn’t dominate Ligue 1 like he maybe should’ve had. But then again, PSG are a Champions League club that just happens to play in France. I, for one, hope that he will transfer to a club that demands excellence on a weekly basis, so that he will be called-upon to deliver just that.

When I watch Mbappe, I can’t help thinking about the Brazilian Ronaldo. I know many others feel the same way. The physique of both players transcends the normal in a somewhat similar way (although prime Ronaldo was even stronger). As a football fan, I hope that what I call the “Ronaldo Fenomeno principle” – if a combination of pace and power seems too good to be true, it will not last – will not prove true in Kylian Mbappe’s case. Fingers crossed.

Lionel Messi
Midway through December, Lionel Messi stood at five goals and two assists in La Liga. Not only were his numbers lacking, his performances weren’t close to what we have grown accustomed to. Yes, there still were flashes of brilliance – I mean, of course there were – but he seemed, as Jonathan Wilson put it, “a peripheral genius“. The dysfunctional Barcelona team he played in may have played an important part in him no longer being the center of the footballing world, but be that as it may, Messi simply no longer performed at his usual level.

Fast forward to the present day and we can say that things are once again closer to what has been normal for the last thirteen years or so. Messi has by now amassed more than 50 goal contributions in all competitions. A number that gets even more surreal if we keep in mind that Messi is categorically not a centre forward. He once again managed to transform a very mediocre Barcelona side to a contender for winning major silverware. He did so as a creator, and he did so as a finisher. At his best, he continues to be the best player in world football. My guess is that among the 10 best performances I have seen by any player this season, half of them came from Messi. If any young player had played the season Messi has played, he’d be a global sensation.

Still, we have reached the autumn of Messi’s career. He has played close to a thousand professional matches by now and it is beginning to show. La Pulga sometimes looks tired. His athleticism never was his defining characteristic, but these short bursts of pace, his rapid stop-and-go motions certainly were an asset to his play. They are not gone, but they remain only in diminished form. His work against the ball, especially in the first half of the season, bordered on what can still be justified in modern football. Finally it should also be noted that the biggest games of the season were not necessarily his best. He rarely played badly, but the big, game-changing moments arrived rather seldomly for him when the stakes were high. His wondergoal in the Cope Del Rey final and his long-range strike against PSG being the exceptions to the rule.

Messi is still a world class performer. But a rather peculiar one. That he is not “just” a world class player, but a true GOAT candidate, is still evident in his game. People who have never watched Messi will notice that he is different, that there are aspects to his game that stand above what we see from other modern greats like this season’s Player of the Season, Robert Lewandowski. But his combined performances from this season land him in the world class category, no longer the GOAT category. He is by now mortal – he just keeps producing immortal moments.

Robert Lewandowski (by Justin Kraft)
29 appearances, 2463 minutes played, a record 41 goals, and now firmly a Bundesliga legend. At 32 years Robert Lewandowski is the best version of himself. But what is the secret behind the amazing performances that he has been showing for the last two years?

The short answer: There is not the one reason, but several important factors play a role. First of all you have to mention his professional attitude. Lewandowski is a machine on and off the pitch. He works incredibly hard on himself and is trying to improve his way of life in terms of nutrition and training methods. He is doing everything to bring his body into the perfect shape for every challenge. You only have to follow his wife Anna Lewandowska on Instagram to see some of the hard work that both invest into their health.

This is the base for his success. But there is so much more that makes him special as a striker. In the last years, Lewandowski’s status as one of the best strikers in the world has never been in any doubt. For Bayern he had already scored 30 or more goals in one Bundesliga season four times – and one time he stopped at 29. He was almost never injured and his performances were constantly on a very high level. But the best striker in the world? Fewer people were ready to subscribe to this claim. He was a member of the elite group of goalscorers that came just behind the leading pair of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo but not yet in a league of his own.

Since 2019 things have changed. Lewandowski was right there, when Bayern needed him the most. At a time when the team was struggling under Niko Kovač to stay in the group of elite clubs in Europe, Lewandowski was getting better and better. But why? Especially with strikers it is, after all, often the case that they can’t deliver properly if their team is struggling to create chances. But he did. Why?

One big reason is that Lewandowski stepped up in terms of hierarchy. With Arjen Robben an Franck Ribéry leaving the club, he became even more important than before. It seems that his personal character changed with this new role. Before he was never really seen as a leader at Bayern, but with the beginning of the 2019/2020 season he suddenly became a great team player, someone who pushed his teammates when they made a mistake instead of turning away and getting angry with them.

So maybe he just reached his best level because he learned to control his feelings and his own game on the pitch better. He learned when to make a run and when to drop down into midfield. By now he can read every situation in the attacking third before everyone else does – except Thomas Müller maybe. Oh, and if we talk about Müller already: This guy is also a reason for Lewandowskis success. A big one.

Müller’s runs and his exceptional intelligence in terms of reading the whole game are very beneficial to Lewandowski’s performances. You can’t analyze the Polish striker without analyzing Müller. I think that both, if they play at their best level, were and still are the best offensive duo in Europe in recent years. They know each other very well and Müller in particular knows how he can let his partner shine. Lewandowski was also very good unter Kovač when Müller didn’t perform well. But now, with Müller being at his best form of his life, Lewandowski is even better.

This season he was certainly the best striker in the world. By far. Not only that he broke the legendary record of Gerd Müller with his 41 Bundesliga goals, but he was involved in his team’s overall attacking game like rarely before. He found the perfect blend of being more than a striker without sacrificing anything in regards to the classic taks of a centre forward. I’m sure: If he hadn’t been injured in April, we would now talk about an even more impressive Bundesliga record with 45 goals or more and Bayern reaching at least the semi-finals in the Champions League. With his 41 goals in just 2463 Bundesliga minutes he is averaging a goal every 60 minutes. This is Messi stuff, although it should be mentioned that Messi did that several times. Even without his eight penalty goals (which he had to convert, mind you, penalties are not free goals!) he is averaging a goal every 74 minutes. Gerd Müller scored a goal every 76,5 minutes back then in 1971 and 1972. He missed three penalties. Case closed, isn’t it?

Sometimes things are not going the way you want them to go. And Lewandowski showed that he can still perform against all odds. After missing four Bundesliga matches in April, many people thought that he wouldn’t be able to score the five missing goals in the last four matches. But he did it and even scored one more to crown his own exceptional performance. That is what big players are made of.

Lewandowski deserves to be called the best striker in the world right now. Because he is a tactical genius on the pitch who finds spaces and ways to score even if all defenders focus on him. Because he is almost frighteningly good when he gets the Ball with his back to the goal. Also because he learned to be patient and to wait for his opportunities to be even more focused when they arrive. And because he learned to work more within his own team instead of seeing himself as the target man who does little besides scoring. Lewandowski always was a well-rounded striker. But now he is the most complete version of himself. And a true Bayern and Bundesliga legend.


As a little bonus here is the updated spreadsheet with all my selections. From 2006-07, that’s how far I have watched my way back in time, to the present day. Enjoy, nerds! (I know I do.)

I have employed a points system to (very, very roughly) measure the players’ achievements. Player of the Season/WC gets you 8 points, First Eleven 4, Bench 2. Euros are also included and earn you 6, 3, and 1 point respectively. Other continental competitions are counted as part of regular seasons (thus reducing the unfairness towards non-European players).

7 thoughts on “Team of the Season 2020-2021

  1. Really good team, but I would put Jordi Alba in the nominees and swap Busquets for Casemiro, this season he wasn’t good and swap Nacho for John Stones


    • Thank you for the comment!

      Casemiro instead of Busquets: that is a fair suggestion. Difficult comparison between the two: one reliable but limited, the other a genius with (by now) some major flaws.

      Alba: for me a prime example of a Barcelona player who performed well against weaker opponents but very poorly in some key matches.

      Nacho-Stones: this was indeed one last-minute change. When Stones played badly, he was really bad. Nacho the more solid player. In this case the coin landed on the other side compared to the Casemiro-Busquets case.


    • Who would you have picked? And ahead of whom? Note that place on the bench is not endless. Three players per player in the starting eleven. For every new player added, another has to leave.


      • Would have at least put fonte on the bench who was the beating heart of the lille team that overthrew PSG domestically and i don’t even think dias was great…he was very well protected by the system and his control of his own space isn’t very impressive at all..kante had a horrid time till feb with the odd good performance here and there and would have put kimmich who was the second most consistent player this season after Messi ahead of him..i feel trippier, theo hernandez and alba deserve a bench place at least..also player of the season for Lewandowski, my issue is he didn’t face a team which was relatively close to bayern’s level..the only one he did against Atletico and he was neutralized completely, had he played against psg, i would have no qualms..i still feel Messi is the best individual player in the world by a country mile and we are penalizing him for being Messi(just one bad performance against real)..


      • What is undoubtedly true is that my selections do not only reflect what I know but also what I don’t know. I’ve got blind spots, and my method makes it the case that they are unlikely to be eliminated. Part of my method is that I rarely select players who I did not see play at least a couple of times a season. Now, I watch a lot of football, but there is an upper limit to the time I can spare for watching football. In practice this means that I mostly watch the “big teams” and that I am likely to miss players from teams that just rose to prominence (Lille this season, for example). I watch the big teams because this is typically the most efficient way to get to know the standout performers of the season. Is this unfair towards players from smaller teams? Yes, for example, I will often miss their breakout season (before they transfer to a bigger club or the smaller club has a chance to play CL). But given the limited amount of time I have, I think this is just a limitation of my project I have to live with.


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